Archive for the ‘perception’ Category

121029 – Function and Teleology

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Tyler Burge talks about representational function as if it is something that the human perceptual system has.  He says that a representational function succeeds if it represents veridically.  But that really doesn’t properly characterize the human perceptual system.  I end up feeling that the analysis is running the wrong way.

What we are concerned about is not what the perceptual system is supposed to do, that is, what we conclude that it should do (although that may be an interesting thing to speculate on), but rather we should ask what the perceptual system actually does and how it does it.  This is the difference between positing an algorithm or a set of requirements and then trying to find evidence for them on the one hand, and on the other, trying to understand what actually happens.

Failure to represent veridically is perhaps causally related to behavior that is suboptimal from the standpoint of an observer with access to the veridical facts, but an organism behaves based on what it has available, not what it would be nicer to have available.  It is already granted that proximal inputs underspecify distal reality.  The point is to make the most of what one gets.


Saturday, July 7th, 2012


Can there be representation without representation as?  Perception without perception as?  Can there be perception without concepts?

What is going on when we see an artichoke and can’t remember what it is called?  How does the word ‘artichoke’ fit in with the perception of an artichoke as an ARTICHOKE?  Take carrots (please): if I know English and Spanish and I see a carrot, must I see it as either a CARROT or a ZANAHORIA if I am to see it at all?  (No seeing without concepts.)  What does it mean to say I see a carrot as such?  Is that just a transparent attempt to beg the question of which concept I see it as?  If a cat sees a carrot, it must see a carrot as something.  A CARROTCAT ? It can’t be a CARROT or a ZANAHORIA, although is is surely a carrot.  There in Thailand I had for breakfast exotic fruits whose names I never knew, but which I recognized in terms at least of which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t care for.  So at first I saw them as BREAKFAST FRUITS OF UNKNOWN DESIRABILITY.  I’m willing to grant that as a concept.

What if I’m driving, listening to the radio, and thinking about buying an iPad.  I see and react to all sorts of driving related things: cars, traffic signals, etc., but a lot of the things I see don’t appear to make an appearance in consciousness.  Do I have to say I saw them?  How do I distinguish terminologically between things that made it to (How shall I say?) first class consciousness and thing that were handled by second class consciousness? If I can’t say that I saw them, what must I say to indicate that at some level I took them into consideration because I stayed on the road in my lane and didn’t crash into anything?

030515 – Perceptual(?) oddities

Thursday, May 15th, 2003

030515 – Perceptual(?) oddities

In 1969, I remarked to Jerry Fodor, who was then my research advisor at M.I.T., that I had recently had an experience in which I glanced at a scene out the window of a bus, glanced away, and then realized that I had seen some word that seemed unlikely to have appeared in the scene.  I had no idea where the word had appeared, but I felt confident that I had indeed seen it.  I returned my gaze to the scene, scanning it as systematically as I could, looking for the word.  After perhaps five or more seconds, I finally located it.  It was on a sign on a building with many signs.

What struck me as notable was that I knew I had seen the word, but I had no idea where in the scene, I had no idea whether the word was written in large or small letters, or what color the letters were.  All I had was the experience of having seen the word, but beyond knowing what the word was, apparently nothing.  Fodor’s comment to me was that clearly the brain’s system for reading does not mark words it reads with their location in space.  (Although note that students often remember where a certain piece of information was located on a page.)

Since then, I have noticed the same phenomenon, reading a word and not knowing where the word appeared in the visual field without having to mount a conscious search.  Is it right to call this perception without awareness or is it actually awareness without perception.

This morning, while listening to the news on the radio, the phone chirruped briefly as if someone had dialed an incorrect number and almost immediately realized it and hung up.  I noticed that I had no idea whether the sound of the phone had occurred before during or after whatever was being said on the radio at the time, that is, my uncertainty of the temporal relationship between the sound of the phone and the sound of the voice on the radio was uncertain over a range of two seconds or more.  This does not worry me.  I can’t think of a reason I would need to be able to make a finer distinction (except in a psycho-acoustic experimental paradigm).

There is, of course, a line of psycholinguistic experiments that explore variants of this phenomenon.  The subject listens to a sentence and at some point in the sentence there is a beep or a click.  The subject is then asked to identify where in the sentence the sound occurred.  The perceived temporal position of the sound can be manipulated by systematically varying the grammatical structure of the sentence.